Obituary: Pauline Saliga (1953–2022)

Sep 15, 2022 by SAH News

Pauline Saliga photo by John GronkowskiThe Society of Architectural Historians lost a great leader and friend when former executive director Pauline Saliga passed away on Sunday, September 11, 2022, after a brief illness. For 27 years she served as the executive director of the Society of Architectural Historians and the Charnley-Persky House Museum Foundation in Chicago, where she helped promote the study and appreciation of architecture and architectural history, advocated for public humanities, and furthered public engagement with the built environment.

Pauline Saliga was born in Chicago in 1953. A lifelong Chicagoan, she grew up in the Canaryville neighborhood and was a longtime resident of Beverly.

Pauline studied art history at DePaul University and went on to earn a BA in art history from Northern Illinois University in 1975. She earned a master’s degree in art history and museum administration from the University of Michigan in 1977.

She began her career as an assistant curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, where she worked from 1977 to 1981. There she helped organize a Sol Lewitt retrospective, an exhibition on Bang and Olufsen Design, and many exhibitions on contemporary Chicago art. In 1981 she joined the Art Institute of Chicago where she was Associate Curator of Architecture for 14 years. She organized numerous exhibitions and catalogues focusing on 19th- and 20th-century architecture in the United States and Europe including Building in a New Spain; Contemporary Spanish Architecture; and Design for the Continuous Present: The Architecture of Bruce Goff, 1904–1982. Of the exhibitions she curated, she was most proud of Fragments of Chicago's Past, a permanent collection of architectural fragments displayed around the central staircase in the main building of the Art Institute.

She was the author, co-author, or editor of many books, articles, and exhibition catalogues, including Design for the Continuous Present: The Architecture of Bruce Goff, 1904–1982 (Prestel Verlag, 1995); Building in a New Spain: Contemporary Spanish Architecture (Gustavo Gili, 1992); and The Sky’s the Limit: A Century of Chicago Skyscrapers (Rizzoli, 1990). She was also interested in the history of Japanese garden design in North America and the history of industrial design.

In 1995 the Society of Architectural Historians welcomed Pauline as its new executive director when it moved its headquarters from Philadelphia to Chicago. She set up SAH’s new office in the Charnley-Persky House, designed by Louis Sullivan with Frank Lloyd Wright, which Chicago philanthropist Seymour Persky purchased and donated to SAH. The Charnley-Persky House Museum Foundation was created in 1997 as a means of managing the property as an architectural monument and educational site, while simultaneously using it to house the SAH headquarters.

The announcement of Pauline’s appointment in the SAH Newsletter (August 1995 Vol. XXXIX No. 4) noted her “deep commitment to architectural history in all of its manifestations,” and remarked that members “will quickly come to appreciate her bright calmness and subtle clarity of expression.”

In addition to overseeing SAH’s annual conferences, field seminars, and educational programs that disseminated new research, Pauline guided the Society to become a leader in the digital humanities. JSAH Online was one of the first humanities journals to incorporate multimedia such as video, audio, and Google maps. SAHARA, a digital archive developed by SAH in collaboration with Artstor, today contains more than 171,000 user-contributed images of the global built environment for research and teaching. The open access resource SAH Archipedia, published by SAH and University of Virginia Press, contains histories, photographs, and maps for over 21,000 structures and places in the US and brings peer-reviewed scholarship to a worldwide audience.

A strong advocate for the public humanities, Pauline worked to position SAH as a bridge between scholarly and public audiences. Under her direction, SAH promoted meaningful public engagement with the built environment through SAH Archipedia, virtual programs, SAH Affiliate Groups, as well as tours and educational programs at the Charnley-Persky House. She was steadfast in her commitment to fostering a more equitable and inclusive culture at SAH and worked to shape the Society to serve the needs of 21st-century architectural historians with the creation of the SAH Inclusion Diversity Equity Accountability and Sustainability Initiative (IDEAS) and the establishment of the SAH IDEAS Committee.

As executive director of the Charnley-Persky House, Pauline oversaw the Society’s stewardship of the house, which included the completion of the house’s conservation management plan and various restoration projects. She loved working in such a beautiful and historic building, and she valued its role in expanding outreach activities that utilized the Society’s intellectual resources. “I’m steeped in history on a daily basis, and I love telling the many stories associated with buildings and making history come alive for new generations,” she told VoyageChicago in 2018. Tourists from all over the world visit the house on tours throughout the year, and student groups learn firsthand about architecture and architectural history. When the Charnley-Persky House was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998, Pauline remarked that it was an honor and that it provided “an important opportunity for the Society to fulfill its mission to heighten awareness and understanding of the built environment in the public realm.”

This year she was working on an exhibition, The City Beyond the White City: Race, Two Chicago Homes, and Their Neighborhoods, with Dr. Rebecca Graff, associate professor of anthropology at Lake Forest College. The exhibition frames the history of race and the built environment in Chicago through the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and two homesites, the Charnley-Persky House and Mecca Flats, located respectively on Chicago’s privileged Near North and disinvested Near South Sides. Pauline was passionate about the project and utilizing the Charnley-Persky House to examine difficult and erased histories of Chicago. The exhibition will open this fall at the Charnley-Persky House and will be accompanied by an exhibition website.

In 2015, when Pauline was named an SAH Fellow, one of the Society’s highest honors, architectural historian Richard Longstreth remarked on the central role she played in moving SAH forward into the digital realm and in becoming a more international organization. “She has been the driver to push the Society into new realms, and she has been the glue that has held it together.”

When it was announced that she would be stepping down in fall 2022, Pauline said that serving as the executive director of SAH and the Charnley-Persky House “has been an honor and the opportunity of a lifetime.” The SAH community will miss Pauline’s quiet brilliance, levelheadedness, kindness, and generosity. We express our heartfelt gratitude for her visionary leadership of the Society, and we offer our sincere condolences to her husband, John, and her children, Nadia and Tom.

Funeral services will be held privately for the family, and a public memorial service will be planned for a future date.

If you would like to honor Pauline’s memory and support SAH, donations may be made to the recently established Pauline Saliga Fund, which helps fund the Society’s ongoing technology expenses and recognizes her achievements as a visionary proponent for new technologies in the digital humanities. Donations may be made online at or by check to SAH at 1365 N Astor Street, Chicago, IL 60610.

Message from the SAH president and tributes from other organizations: